Kolkata: The Trinamool Congress-led West Bengal government has cancelled the allotment of a two-acre plot intended for the expansion of a Tata group-run cancer hospital near Kolkata, citing violation of ethics in the allotment by the erstwhile Left Front government.
The annulment of the allotment of the plot is the second such move against the Tata group after the Mamata Banerjee-led government seized the land allotted to the nation’s largest conglomerate in Singur for a car factory.
The Left Front government had at the end of February allotted the additional land to the Tata Medical Centre Trust for expansion of its cancer research and care facility in Rajarhat on the outskirts of Kolkata. Tata group didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.
The Tata Medical Centre sits on 13 acres, allotted to it during the Left Front government’s rule. It is a “philanthropic” initiative of the Tata group, which its chairman Ratan Tata had announced in 2004, much before Tata Motors Ltd chose Singur as the site for manufacturing its Nano small car.
File photo of abandoned Tata Nano Factory in Singur. Photo By Indranil Bhoumik/ Mint
Agitations spearheaded by the Trinamool Congress, then the state’s main opposition party, forced the car maker to scrap the Singur project in October 2008. After the Trinamool Congress ousted the Left Front in the April-May assembly elections, ending its 34-year rule in West Bengal, the state government seized the land allotted to Tata Motors in Singur.
Tata Motors challenged the move legally and the dispute is currently being heard by an appeals court in Kolkata.
The Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal viewed the allotment of land in Rajarhat to the Tata Medical Centre Trust as well as other hospitals, companies and housing projects as “unethical”, according to Debashis Sen, principal secretary in the state’s urban development department.
The allotments were decided upon on 28 February—a day before the model code of conduct, or the Election Commission-imposed curbs, came into force ahead of the assembly elections.
All allotments made on that day have been cancelled and those that were to receive land have been informed, Sen said, adding that “the allotments weren’t illegal, but unethical”.
State-owned Housing Infrastructure Development Corp. Ltd (Hidco) had on 28 February allotted land in Rajarhat envisaging the development of at least seven healthcare facilities, several educational institutions, corporate offices and housing projects. In all, about 100 plots, ranging from 1 to 10 acres, were allotted on that day.
In 2004, the Tata group chairman had said at the annual general meeting of Tata Tea Ltd that Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Hospital received a large number of patients from eastern India, and that if they had access to a similar facility in the east, a lot of cancer patients could have received timely medical intervention. The Tata Medical Centre’s website says 25-30% of patients seeking treatment at the Mumbai facility are from states in eastern India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Even after Tata Motors abandoned its Singur project, the group commissioned the 167-bed hospital in Kolkata. Its construction was concluded earlier this year. Half of its capacity is reserved for free or subsidized treatment.
The cancellations of land allotments at Rajarhat have created a great deal of consternation among Kolkata’s real estate developers, and several yet-to-begin housing projects in Rajarhat have been mothballed, according to people from the construction industry, who did not want to be identified.
“We are told that several allotments made earlier by the Left Front government under the Hidco chairman’s quota are being reviewed,” said one of them. The speculation stems from Hidco’s decision to abolish its chairman’s quota in land allotment.
Sen said only a few “exceptional cases” of land allotment at Rajarhat were under review. This is being done because the state government suspects some plots might have been distributed at suboptimal prices, he said.
Other than the allotments made on 28 February, which have been cancelled, about five more are currently under review, said a Hidco official, who did not want to be named. Plots that are being taken back will be auctioned, according to Sen.
The West Bengal government has already tried allotting plots through auction—one for a trauma care centre and another for geriatric care—but received a tepid response because Hidco offered the plots on lease, according to the unnamed Hidco official cited above.
Denying the charges against the Left Front government, Gautam Deb, erstwhile Hidco chairman and the minister for housing development, said during his time, only freehold land was offered because real estate in Rajarhat is expensive.